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The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss – You MUST Read This

31st August, 2016

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

A father receives a call from the school authorities saying that his fifteen year old daughter collapsed on the playground without breathing. An ordinary day suddenly gets punctured with the uncertainty of the future.


On the cover of my copy of the novel, Times calls Sarah Moss as “One of the under rated writers of the country.” After reading the first page, I was convinced that she definitely deserves that praise. I was pretty sure this novel would be an astounding one. Glad I wasn’t wrong because after I read the book, I wanted to devour all of her previous works as soon as possible.

Moss engages the reader as a silent yet important spectator from the first pages of the book. The book opens with the conception of a child to its birth, told in such simple yet lyrical words that lures you into the story. From the first page onwards you feel connected to this child who is born, Miriam, as one of your own. If you would like to read an extract of the first chapter, here it is – Things that didn’t happen.

(If you are too busy to read the whole review, here is the short way out- Read the book. It is worth it). Don’t forget to check out the Giveaway at the end of the post.

The immediate story begins on an ordinary day. Adam is a stay-at-home dad. His wife, Emma is a busy GP. The two kids, fifteen year old Miriam and eight year old Rose are away at school. Suddenly there is a pin-prick that bursts this happy bubble of a day in the form of a phone call about Miriam collapsing on the school ground.

Here are some of the highlights of the novel :

1. Family

The most important aspect in Moss’s writing is how beautifully she portrays a family confronted with tragic news. We realise that unlike a movie, time doesn’t race forward after bad news hits us. Nor is there a dramatic pause with background music. Time dribbles on, schedules of the different family members must be adhered to even after their minds have been subjected to certain irreversible changes.

“Everything is paused, except that Rose still needs to go to school and to eat her meals, and the laundry must still be done and the bathroom cleaned, somehow, from the High Dependency Unit of a city fifteen miles from home.”

The novel often falls into the natural comical moments shared by the family even under stressful situations, which makes it a delight to read. Whether it be fights over the breakfast table over what to have with toast or arguments on whether to keep a dog, Moss is successful in making the reader feel connected with her characters.

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

2. Adam Goldschmidt

A majority of the book takes place inside Adam’s head. Moss has weaved the mental agony of a father into the mind of a responsible care giver of the family who worries about his ill daughter while being concerned at the same time about jam smears, laundry folding and nutrient requirements of the rest of the family.

3. Miriam

Miriam is a sharp tongued, frustrated teenager who dislikes a majority of the antics of our human society and is strongly vocal about her views. It is interesting to read how her views on her condition are different from the parent’s (Adam).

4. Gender Roles

Adam is a stay-at-home father. He is an unemployed PhD who does occasional hourly paid part time jobs at the university. His wife is a busy doctor. And, they are a happy family. A much needed picture in modern times.

5. Historical Perspective :

Adam is researching the post war rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. This historical perspective comes in the novel as a breather or like a much needed advertisement between a TV show to help you move forward with the tragedy that hits the family.

Also, the novel takes place in the present time right in the middle of the current political situations which makes the story feel even more real.

6. Social Commentary/Sarcasm :

The Tidal Zone has sarcasm at its best. Some commendable quotes are We live in a country that pays women more to impersonate elves in a shop rather than give expert health care to critically ill children. Or the one about “It is cheating to find beauty by picking out the old buildings and softening the focus on the rest.”

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

7. Relationships :

Never before have I seen a writer who explores the fragility of relationships in such a delicate and convincing manner. There is an internal conflict between Adam and his wife. He feels he is the go-to-parent for the child, not their mother. Later his thoughts change into gratitude for his wife’s role in the family. Adam has always been critical of Miriam’s temper outbursts. But later he longs for them as they assure him that she is healthy and safe. A particularly touching conversation was the one between the younger child, Rose and Adam on how Miriam’s health condition affects both of them.

8. Generation gaps and Viewpoints :

Adam’s father comes to visit, and tells about his own youth in America as a hippy rebelling against the authorities. His parents were European immigrants, and he later moved back to Europe.

Miriam is surprisingly similar to her grandfather in defying authority, but using entirely different methods. For example when Miriam’s dad asks her to accompany him to the cathedral, she says , It’ll take more than coloured glass and old music to make me sign up to homophobia, misogyny and the grandfather of all patriarchal institutions.”


Throughout the book I felt like a ghost that haunted the Goldschmidt household, helpless to offer comfort to them in any way. As the story progressed I felt even more invested in each of the characters. As the pages came to a halt with a thump of the back cover, I felt like a wraith, melting away as I peeped through the window to see one happy family.

The novel explores many themes such as mortality, 21st-century gender politics, health care, family bonds, parental jealously, sibling expectations – all explored through the lens of one ordinary family. The characters feel real, as real as you and me. The power of the novel rests in its depiction of the ordinary  while being firmly grounded in the present world.

This is one of my top reads of this year.  I had to compose myself several times and even close the book to fight back a tear or two. It is definitely a book that I would love to re-read as well as recommend.

Buy it! Read it!

Disclaimer : Thanks to Granta Books for the copy of the book. All opinions are my own. It really is a fantastic book.


Good news! If you do not already own a copy, here is something for you. I am hosting an International Giveaway on Instagram for ONE copy of The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss. All you have to do is follow me (@thebooksatchel) and Granta Books (@grantabooks) and tag two friends who would be interested in reading the book.

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

Click on this Instagram link to enter the Giveaway. If you would like to enter via Twitter, do Like and RT this Tweet. The Giveaway ends on 2nd September (Friday), 11:59 PDT. The winner will be announced on Twitter and Instagram.

Title : The Tidal Zone
Author : Sarah Moss
Publisher : Granta Books
Published : 2016
Language : English
Pages : 336
Rating : 5/5

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Have you read The Tidal Zone? What are your thoughts on the book? Do you have any favourites by Sarah Moss?

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The Tidal Zone

About the Author

Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. Her other novels are Signs for Lost Children, Bodies of Light, Night Waking, and Cold Earth. She  also writes non-fiction such as Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland  and academic books on Romantic-era British literature, food history and gender.

This Post Has 36 Comments
  1. This sounds like a pretty amazing read, and I love how you highlighted the social commentary and politics presented in the work! Great review, Resh! I will need to put this one on my tbr, I didn’t know what the book was about have have seen a lot of the cover. Also, your pics are so gorgeous, I want to come to tea! 🙂

    1. Thank you dear Bina. Ofcourse you can come for tea. The Tidal Zone is a favourite read this year. I am so gald I read Ruby and The Tidal Zone about the same time. It felt like an overdose of good books. The humour in the book is wonderfully apt. And it is draining too since the characters feel very very realistic. I hope you will get a copy soon.

      PS: About the cover- Did you know it is a painting named Eliza by Michael Gaskell? I initially thought it was a photograph.

    1. I adored the read. It wasn’t easy because of the sensitive topics of death and mortality. But Moss does bring alive a typical family right in front of our eyes. I hope you will be able to get a copy soon.

  2. What a fantastic review,, and for a book I haven’t read, I am so thankful for this. That book sounds quite good, and kind of gripping, I can see why you loved it so much.The theme of death isn’t really easy, but I’m willing to give this a try someday, it sounds worth it 🙂

    1. Thank you Marie. I hope you will find the writing wonderful as well when you pick it up. You are right- it is not an easy read. I had to stop and inahale and exhale air many times over the novel

  3. I had never heard of Sarah Moss before, so I must thank you for bringing her to my attention. This sounds like a wonderful and thoughtful read and one that I definitely want to add to my reading list.

    1. I hope you will. When I read the first few pages I nodded to myself in agreement of what Times said on the cover of the book – that Moss is an underrated writer. She definitely is. I hope you will get a copy soon.

  4. This book has been getting lots of love – it sounds so good. But many of her books sound good – I might just start with whichever one I can get my hands on first!
    Nice review!

  5. I listened to Night Waking on audiobook a while ago and really enjoyed it. Will certainly look out for this, thanks for your very comprehensive review. (Visiting after seeing your comment on James Reads Books)

  6. I wanted to read this mainly for the gender roles. Like you said it’s needed in these modern times. Being a stay at home dad is usually considered not manly and I hear this messes with his head a bit which is going to interesting to read.
    Also I entered the giveaway the second you posted it. thanks for the chance Resh.

    1. It is an excellent read. I love how perfectly Sarah Moss makes all her characters come alive. The reader is heavily invested in the characters throughout the novel.

      Good luck to you! I hope you will win. 🙂

  7. I love your short-form review! haha, yes – read the book!
    It really does sound incredible. You’ve made me very curious to know this family, especially Miriam and Adam. There’s so much to like about this story it seems, with interesting portrayals of gender roles and the contemporary historical perspectives.
    I really hope I win! I’d love to read it.
    Btw, I followed the publisher on Instagram and they followed me back! It made my day. 😀

    1. I loved the read Naz. What is incredible is how real the whole situation feels. I had a friend whose friend stopped breathing and collapsed on the playground like Miriam. Unfortunately he died unlike Miriam. The fact that death might be so near and you don’t need an illness or war or accident to die is terrifying indeed. And so is becoming normal as a family again, even when you know tragedy might strike unexpectedly, but you gotta live the moments given to you. Good luck,I hope you will win. 🙂

      And how lovely! I love it when publishers follow back. Makes you feel appreciated. Right? I am glad it made the day so much more happier.

  8. I felt very like you described, almost like a shadow member of the family living through all the emotions involved in such a close brush with death, and yet having to keep on with”normal” life.
    If you haven’t yet read “Night waking” by the same author I would read this next. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It struck a chord when I had small children. Wonderful observation of relationships.

    1. So happy to hear that you felt the same way. I loved Moss’s writing style in this one. Thank you for the recommendation. I will look for Night Waking as well. I love the way she has handled relationships. SO I think I would enjoy that one as well.

  9. I loved reading your review 🙂 I think The Tidal Zone is such a powerful book and Moss’ understated writing really helps this. One of the aspects I loved most was, like you mention in your review, how time doesn’t stop when the family receive the shocking news – life has to continue and they all have the same responsibilities as they did before (Emma going to work, Adam picking Rose up from school etc.) It feels like Moss has truly depicted real life in this book.

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